Olympic bronze medalists claim Canadian three-way curling title
Two-time Olympic curling medalist Brad Gushue followed his bronze medal in Beijing with an even more impressive – and unprecedented – achievement.
After vice-captain Mark Nichols tested positive for COVID-19 midway through the Canadian Championships, Gushue and his two remaining teammates won the event shorthanded.
They are the first trio to win the Brier, which determined Canada’s crazy curling national champion for nearly 100 years.
“What the three of us have achieved here the past few days – man, oh man, it’s pretty crazy,” Gushue said after beating the Kevin Koe-led home side 9-8 in extra ends on Sunday in Lethbridge, Alta. .
“Once Mark went down, that was a huge long shot for us,” Gushue said. “But, to be honest, I think it kind of inspired us and we found some extra energy and we knew we had to do our best.”
Playing shorthanded isn’t uncommon in sports – think football after a red card or being shorthanded in hockey – but playing it for an extended period at the highest level is rare.
In curling, the unusual circumstances of playing threesome require two players to throw an extra stone each. It also costs the team a sweeper and a brain to choose from when deciding strategy for the next pitch.
Team Gushue was to do so for four matches, with the national title and a place in the world championships on the line.
“It was a big mountain to get over when Mark got sick,” said team second Brett Gallant. “With one player less, you think a bit more and try to do a few other tasks. The last few days have been exhausting, but I’m definitely on a good footing at the moment. I can’t believe we’ve made it.
Although mid-tournament curling substitutions are relatively unusual, teams bring a substitute to most major events in the event of injury or ineffectiveness. Gushue’s replacement at the Beijing Games was Mark Kennedy, who won a gold medal in 2010 in Vancouver and was competing in his third Olympics.
But Kennedy, a three-time Brier winner, was already entered into this year’s event — as third for the Northern Ontario team led by Brad Jacobs. Less than a month after the Olympics, Gushue didn’t have enough time to work in a different substitute.
So they showed up in Lethbridge with just the usual four-man team.
And that probably would have been fine, before the coronavirus pandemic.
“I didn’t give us a chance,” Gushue said. “Anyone who plays at this level knows how difficult it is to play at this level with four players. When you take out a player, especially of Mark’s caliber, the accuracy level goes down. And it hasn’t gone down much. »
First held in 1927, the Brier has been called the toughest curling tournament in the world, with thousands of Canadians playing in zone, district and provincial qualifiers in hopes of competing for the national championship.
Gushue have won the Brier three times with Nichols, Gallant and Geoff Walker – the same group that won bronze in Beijing last month. (Gushue and Nichols won gold together at the Turin Olympics in 2006.)
The foursome finished 8-0 in round robin play at this year’s Brier before Nichols tested positive for coronavirus on Friday and was ruled out for the weekend. With Gallant and Walker throwing three rocks each, Team Gushue lost Page’s first playoff game and then won three straight playoff games to win the Silver Brier Tankard.
“Every time you win a Brier, it’s unreal,” Walker said. “The way we’ve done it…doing this as a threesome is just amazing.”
Gushue said Nichols was in touch with the team over the weekend, rooting him in isolation. He is expected to be back for next month’s world championships in Las Vegas.
“The bad thing now is that we have to wait a few days before we can kiss her again and give her a hug and celebrate that. Which is unfortunate because that’s a big part of it,” Gushue said. We’ve won eight games in a row, never lost a game with him in the lineup. Even though we succeeded, we are a better team with him in the line-up.